Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Thu, 13 Sep 2007

Hert LUG 20070912

I gave a brief talk on OpenStreetmap a year on from the presentation by some of their main people. I posted to my diary that I was doing a talk and was sent a document used by the founder in one of his presentations. This is why I so enjoy working in this sort of group. Most people there are helpful and friendly. Everyone is working for the good of the project rather than their own gain, although I expect many people are looking to gain something from it, even if it's just a free map of their local area.

The talk went down well with the well attended meeting. There were lots of questions, but I had some help from others who had also played with OSM.

I have some work to do in mapping out my recent traces from Ireland and Israel. I've had some issues with the latest JOSM editor, but just received some hints on that to try out. I also have some new software to play with from Bettersoftware. Unfortunately you can't access the details on the site without registering. It looks good as it allows for copying the rendered map tiles from the OSM site onto your PDA so that you can see them as you move around. This will make it much easier to see what has been mapped already and could also be useful for finding your way around new places. I need to play with it.

Also at the LUG, Rob spoke about his experiences with trying to write a Linux USB interface to a little phot-displaying keyring device. He's been trying to reverse engineer the protocol by analysing the data transferred when it talks to it's Windows software. Interesting stuff, but I'm not sure I would have the patience. There are other applications I would like to develop when I find the time.

[13:18] | [] | Comments | G

Mon, 13 Aug 2007

Backing Up

It's been my intention for a while to make a proper back-up of my files. I have used various methods such as CD-R, DVD-R, external hard drives (various sizes) and even copying to a remote server, but some files were too big for these. So I bought myself a new Maxtor 320GB USB drive. That's bigger than my combined existing drives. I chose this one based on it being the cheapest large drive in PC World and I happened to have vouchers to spend there. It's nothing exciting to look at, just a large blob with some cables, but it at least runs nice and quiet.

I haven't quite achieved my back-up aims due to a couple of issues. Firstly, the drive is formatted as NTFS. It seems that this is supported on Linux these days thanks to the NTFS-3G project. I installed that and can indeed read and write to the drive. The next problem was that I could not copy files with certain characters in the names. It was suggested on the LUG IRC channel that I set the locale for the drive to something using UTF8. I added a line to my fstab, but the drive was being mounted from settings elsewhere and not using that. By unmounting it and re-mounting with a different location I was able to resolve that for now. So now I can copy my files, but Konqueror complains about not being able to copy certain attributes. I'm not so worried about that as long as the files are copied. I would like to set up a script to do incremental backups, but have had problems with both rsync and rdiff-backup. I think these could also be related to the destination filing system not having the same capabilities as what is used in *nix.

There are some alternatives to explore. I could create a tar file (makes it trickier to get files back out) or re-format the drive. I need to be sure that the latter will not break anything. I had another drive caddy that would only detect drives formatted in FAT32. I'll concentrate on just getting the files copied for now.

I'm open to suggestions on how to back up efficiently. Feel free to leave comments here.

The LUG meeting last week was a bit quiet. Only five of us, so we just chatted. I expect others are on their holidays at the moment.

[13:04] | [] | Comments | G

Mon, 23 Jul 2007

There is another

When I rebuilt my PC I transferred the old parts to the system that my kids use. They have been running Win98, mainly so they can run some old edutainment titles. I tried getting 98 to use the new hardware properly, but have not had much joy with it. So I decided it was time they got a proper OS. I thought about installing Ubuntu, but why not try something slightly different?

Mepis looked interesting. I had a live DVD that I booted up in the QEMU virtual PC. Mepis comes with a lot of stuff that I would want already installed such as Real, Flash and Nvidia drivers. I had to download the latest ISO as the other PC does not have a DVD drive. It booted up fine and worked pretty well as a live CD. I just had a few issues with the install program. It seems to get confused if you try and run anything else whilst it's running. The window does not refresh. It seemed to be taking ages to format the old 8GB drive, but did eventually manage it. There were only a few options to go through before the actual install. The choice of locale may confuse people as it just gives the abbreviations, e.g. en-gb and (I think). When that finished I rebooted and..... nothing. It POSTs, shows the usual BIOS stuff, then just sits there. Booting up the live CD showed that the OS stuff seemed to be all there. I did opt not to have GRUB, but I didn't think I would need it if I wasn't going to dual boot. So what could be wrong? I may try to install again and include GRUB.

My plan for the edutainment stuff is to install Win98 in QEMU, or possibly VirtualBox on the main PC. It can be handy to have a Windows system available once in a while. I have the old laptop with W2K, but that doesn't come out very often.

I had a go at sorting my Canon inkjet yesterday. I took the print head out and tried several cycles of soaking it to try and clear the black nozzles. It's slightly better now, but I may have to try something more extreme. I was going by this guide.

[08:44] | [] | Comments | G

Sun, 15 Jul 2007

Jerking around

I really like my Ikea Jerker desk. It has two high shelves and three swiveling shelves for the monitor, printer and scanner. This keeps everything to hand and tidy. I was even considering getting an extra shelf for possible recording equipment. I just went to check on the carrying capacity and found that the Jerker is not to be found on their site! There's something called the Fredrik, but there's no mention of extra shelves. I see that others have noticed. No doubt the seond-hand value of Jerkers will now rocket. How many other pieces of office furniture have a shrine?

I may pop to the Ikea near work to see if they have any old stock that I can grab. I also need to ask if they will ever have their Benno CD shelves in oak finish again. I bought a couple along with some matching bookshelves for my study, but need a couple more to handle the expanding collection and fill up a wall. Unfortunately it seems that finish was taken off the catalogue due to some production problems. I was told it would be back soon, but it's still not on the site. It would be a shame to have to get some that didn't match.

This whole Ikea episode started when I wanted to check if the Jerker shelves could support an HP 2600n Colour Laser. Our old Canon i455 inkjet seems to have clogged black nozzles, so I was looking at the options. Colour lasers have got very cheap now. I'm not so bothered about printing lots of photos, but the kids will want colour prints. This model can also work on a network, which may become more important at some stage. There seems to be a driver for it, but it's not mentioned over at Turboprint. There are a couple of other printers in the same price range so I will see which has the best support.

[11:21] | [] | Comments | G

Thu, 12 Jul 2007

Herts LUG 20070711

This month's talk was by David Honour on the subject of producing music using free software. I took along my guitar, some speakers and assorted cables in case they were needed, but it turned out they were not.

David and Malcolm had built a small recording studio in our meeting room with PC, PA system, electric piano, microphones + pre-amp and an assortment of percussion and string instruments. There were around ten of us there. David was using an assortment of software hooked together with JACK. This makes for a powerful system as you can combine a drum machine, sequencer (driving soft synths) and effects. Ardour was used to record the results. This does involve being careful to start all the right programs in the right order and to ensure that they are all connected correctly. That looked to be a little prone to error, but the results were impressive.

For my own musical experiments I may settle for something simpler. I still think that Jokosher has possibilities if I can get it all working. I tried to record some guitar this week, but couldn't even get the audio to record. Something is not set correctly somewhere in my system.

I had slightly more success with getting video from our camcorder into the PC. I'm using Kino. It recognised the camera, but I could only control it when running as root. I hope to resolve that. A bigger problem came when I tried to export some video. I thought I would try Xvid, but I never get the file. It seems there is some issue with either Kino or mencoder. I will look at upgrading Kino. I also tried some other formats. VCD worked, but DVD got errors. Any of these should work with my DVD player, but I will go for whatever gives the best quality to capacity ratio.

My wonderful remote control has been playing up lately. Various buttons stopped working. At the weekend I took it apart and cleaned the contacts. They are very basic, just a rubbery button with some conducting material that touches a grid on the cirecuit board. Finger grease may get inside and mess it up. It's much better now.

I finally got rid of some redundant kit. Firstly I sold my old motorbike! It's been sitting in the shed for years, but still runs well. Then I posted my spare computer bits on Freecycle. I had lots of responses, but they went to someone just up the road who is ivolved with Electroshare, a volunteer group who pass equipment on to needy causes. He said that my PCs would be going to a school for the deaf. That's perfect as far as I am concerned.

That's enough catching up for this week. I always find that there was something else I meant to write, but it can wait.

[18:00] | [] | Comments | G

Sat, 16 Jun 2007

A New Hope

So I built the new PC using the parts I planned on. I went for 2GB of memory as it was just so cheap. Assembly was pretty easy. The processor slipped in and the supplied AMD heatsink has a lever to make clipping in place a screwdriverless effort. The harder bits are the mechanical ones, getting the board and drives screwed in. Then there's the usual fiddly bit of attaching the case wiring. Maybe, one day, someone will make a single connector version. The motherboard has plenty of spare headers for things like serial, midi/joystick, digital audio output. Finding the appropriate backplates may be tricky. It all worked first time. I may still have to tweak the BIOS, but nothing major is wrong.

It's running from my old drive with no re-install. Everything is working so far, but I have been unable to get the non-free nvidia driver to work. I tried Envy, which is supposed to sort it all out, but that didn't work. I've also tried making the changes manually, but there seem to be some files missing. I really need this if I'm to use some of the fun stuff like 3D games and Google Earth. It might even let me try the latest 3D desktop gimicks.

The PC is pretty quiet. I can just hear the CPU fan plus the hard drive when it's working hard. With dnet maxing out both cores it runs at a steady 40C. General usage feels quicker. I spend less time waiting for things to happen. My stats should show a healthy increase. Converting an MPEG to Divx ran about 4x quicker, but was only using one core. I would hope that annoyances like a Flash web site left running in another user session will have a much smaller impact than previously.

I hope that this PC will keep me going for a few years. What is likely to come along that will require much more power? I guess things like Photosynth may make it to the desktop and suck up all available processing power. If Moore's Law holds then I'll be able to afford an upgrade when the time comes.

The first computer I owned had 16kB of memory, a 1MHz 8 bit processor and used audio tape for storage. A lot has changed, but it still takes me about as long to type this much text.

[21:32] | [] | Comments | G

Thu, 14 Jun 2007

Herts LUG 20070613

Only seven of us this month. Due to a lack of a main speaker I suggested that people could do a short talk on whatever they had been playing with recently. I kicked off with my impressions of Jokosher. Conversation rambled around MIDI, audio compression and sundry current affairs. Someone whose name I need reminding of had some videos demonstrating the latest technology that the dreaded Microsoft have been previewing. It's called Photosynth and is simply stunning. It's about how you can view photos. It's hard to describe. Just watch the videos and gasp in wonder. I had heard of it via my friend Imel. I wonder if the free software people can match it. I really need to organise my pictures so that I can find what I want. We also talked about Second Life. I've heard so much about it, but have yet to try it. It seems that it can be run on Linux.

I built my new PC, but have only booted it from an Ubuntu CD to test it. I'm in the process of backing up some things before I transfer my drive. I've not had a proper impression of it's speed apart from some impressive figures from the Dnet benchmarks. It looks to be 5 or 6 times faster than my current unit. I hope to get moved over before next week. This PC really seems to be slow these days. I suspect that there are issues with my user profile that are causing problems. I may strip it right back and gradually copy things back in an effort to fix this.

I'm reading a book by Stewart Brand about the concepts behind The Long Now. Good stuff. See the book list for details.

[22:14] | [] | Comments | G

Wed, 23 May 2007

Another Distributed Casualty

Following on from the end of I now read that the RSA Labs challenges are ending too. This was what kicked off the whole distributed processing movement, outside universities and industry. For the latest project it was looking like taking a few thousand years to test all possible keys, so it had at least proved how hard some codes are to break. It seems a lot of people were just in it for the statistics. will still have an active project called OGR, which aims to find some potentially useful mathematical structures, but they are polling uses as to whether to continue with the RSA project. I think they should give it us and do some more useful stuff. I think they have already lost most of their contributors to things like Folding@home. I will probably switch my home PC back to that once I get it upgraded.

[08:55] | [] | Comments | G

Mon, 14 May 2007

Crashed and Burned

On Saturday I started up my PC and was greeted by a series of errors. Something had gone wrong and trashed some system files beyond repair. I decided that this was an omen that I should do a fresh install of Kubuntu that I had conveniently burned to CD earlier. The install went very smoothly. I just had to answer a few questions and tell it not to format my existing data partitions. It took around 30 minutes in all.

Then came the process of re-installing all the extra things I use. I've got most of it, but have a few outstanding issues:

I'm assuming these are all software issues, even though my hardware is getting on. I've been planning an upgrade for ages. My current planned configuration is:

The new kit ammounts to around 200-250. I'll re-equip my old PC with some old drives so we can still use it. It can replace the one the kids use (800MHz Duron).

[12:58] | [] | Comments | G

Thu, 10 May 2007

Herts LUG 20070509

Rob continued his demo of Blender. It's an amazing piece of software that I would love to have to time to get into. I would also need some ideas and some creativity to put it to work. I should dedicate more time to my higher priority of recording some music. The LUG was well attended and we were able to raise enough to keep our room for another year. Only one more meeting when we will have to put up with the smoke in the bar!

For those who have looked at OpenStreetMap before it's worth another look. They have revamped the map so that it looks much better now. There are two different renders of it, but the Osmarender one seems to keep more up to date. I added some local roads and they were visible the next day. There are also extra options on the user settings to record your location, so you can see who is nearby, and some notes about yourself. There's also a Users' Diaries page, but I can't see how to add my own. I hope to get my GPS mounted on my bicycle so I can map the rest of Arlesey this year.

I'll add a quick plug for my Suzuki GSX600F that is up for sale. I've been planning to get rid of it for some time, but it is now in full working order with tax and MOT. I'll consider any reasonable offers.

[13:07] | [] | Comments | G

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